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Simple Is Good, but Simplifying the Cause of a Problem Is Bad

Simple Is Good, but Simplifying the Cause of a Problem Is Bad

Have you ever noticed we typically attempt to solve problems without fully understanding them? We develop a solution before we actually understand what we are looking at. We never actually solve the problem when this occurs.

We fall into a trap when we overlook problems. Have you ever had an uncomfortable feeling when you just knew what you were doing conflicts with what you know you should be doing? This is called cognitive dissonance and we have all had this feeling. Yet, cognitive dissonance can be a powerful motivator for changing your behavior. Think of the need for exercise. People will find all kinds of excuses to explain away their unhealthy habit of not exercising. Yet, they know they should be doing it. At some point, this uncomfortable feeling may assist them in changing their behavior, but they need a method to help them change.

Developing an Alternative Future

    We must strive to fix problems by analyzing potential causes. This brings to mind a quote from Helen Keller as often times we fail to see what is right in front of us.

    “The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision.”

    One such method we can use to assist us is a futures research method focusing on in-depth analysis of current problems called Causal Layer Analysis (CLA). CLA was developed by Sohail Inayatullah and provides us a way to develop alternative futures. [1] So, what exactly is CLA and how can we use it? To answer this, let’s look at how we can use it to move past assumptions and biases in developing alternative futures for a problem.

    How Causal Layer Analysis Makes the Invisible Visible

    CLA possesses 4 dimensions; where dimensions 1 and 2 are the most visible and dimensions 3 and 4 are deeper (less visible).[2]

    Four Dimensions of CLA

    1. The Litany (day-to-day) future where solutions to problems are typically short term.
    2. Systemic Causes focused on social, economic, and political issues.
    3. The Worldview or the big picture paradigm informing what we think our reality is.
    4. The Myth or Metaphor where the deep unconscious story resides.

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      Let’s take a look at how each dimension is framed, questions to ask for each, and an example of each. [3]

      Dimension 1: Litany

      Here we are defining the problem. This is our unquestioned view of reality. For example, I am a former foster child and active in research to improve the current state of the foster care system. Think of our earlier discussion on cognitive dissonance. Whenever the deep issues in foster care are discussed, people tend to shut down and fail to engage in conversation. Instead, they view the conversation as an attack. They know there has to be a better way (and that the system is failing), yet they stick with the model they are comfortable with.

      Questions to ask in this dimension:

      • What is the issue?
      • How is the issue being reported in the media?
      • What are the known facts?
      • What is widely believed and not questioned?

      Litany example: The foster care system is surrounded with a ‘litany’ of problems. The insane reality of the foster care system can be summed up through these 5 key points:[4]

      • Often times you are stuck in a bad situation (either with your biological family or in foster care). If you fail to “win the lottery” and get adopted by a good family, you could be stuck in a horrific life.
      • Foster parents and the foster care system “may not” (notice how I said “may not”) have a childs best interest in mind.
      • A child can be surrounded and literally changed by bad influences.
      • Kids often disappear into the foster care system. Essentially, they are a life discarded.
      • Children get stuck in a viscous cycle of failure.

      Dimension 2: Systemic Causes

      Here we are looking at the systemic analysis and conducting an audit of the causes to the problem.

      Systemic Causes example: The Kansas foster care system is privatized. Yet, the system is in a state of crisis as more and more children are entering the foster care system. The current solution is to spend more; however, there is a strong positive correlation between spending more and the increased number of children entering foster care. This could be due to the fact that the contract ceases payment to contractors once a child leaves the foster care system. [5] Furthermore, the more children ente ring the system creates a need for more foster parents, for which there is already a shortage.

      Questions to ask in this dimension:

      • What factors are influencing the issue?
      • Who is involved?
      • What are the underlying causes?

      Let’s look at a tool we can use to help us in this dimension.

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      The Futures Wheel

      The futures wheel can assist us in anticipating future issues. This also helps us create new possibilities by seeing the world from an unconnected to a complex connected reality. [6]

      Continuing with our foster care example, let’s look at the current problem and see what the future looks like if we fail to change. Let’s look at the consequences and what is causing the Litany to appear on the “surface” in its current form. Here’s an example of the futures wheel:[7]

        Dimension 3: Worldview

        The Worldview is creating the present reality. Here we are looking at the current paradigms, cultures, and values. This includes the hidden societal values and structures that remain unquestioned. In this deeper layer, we are also looking at the values behind the ‘powers’ or influencers that perpetuate the litany. [8]

        Questions to ask in this dimension:

        • What are the hidden assumptions?
        • Who are the stakeholders?
        • Who has the majority of control over the issue?
        • What are the dominant views and ideologies of the ‘powers’ for this issue?

        Worldview example: There are a large number of stakeholders in the foster care system and they all have different views and ideologies. However, it is apparent that the current foster care paradigm needs shattered. We all recognize the foster care system is failing, yet, the current Worldview is we assume people will always do what is in the best interest of a child.

        Dimension 4: Myth or Metaphor

        Moving to the deepest layer of CLA is the Myth or Metaphor dimension. Here we are looking at the images that come to mind when we think of an issue and the gut or emotional responses the issue evokes.

        Questions to ask in this dimension: 1) What encapsulates the feelings in which this Worldview is grounded? 2) What myths or folk stories come to mind? 3) What metaphors come to mind?

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        Myth or Metaphor example:

        • The Allegory of the Cave presented by Greek philosopher Plato is a perfect comparison to the world of a foster child. This example would take up an entire article in itself. I recommend the following video if you are interested in learning more on this topic: The Cave
        • A child in foster care is like a stray puzzle piece. [9]
        • Foster care is like never-ending rain that turns a river into a raging torrent, sweeping away everything in its path.

        So, what should we do now?

        Create alternative futures with the end in mind

        After you complete your CLA, the next thing you must do is choose a different myth, metaphor, or narrative and create new (alternative) futures moving back up through the same dimensions. Flip the current system or paradigm on its head! Let’s stick with the river metaphor and create a new reality for foster children.

        Foster care is like a never-ending rain that turns a river into a raging torrent, sweeping away everything in its path. Let’s imagine what would happen if a foster child broke the cycle of failure… what if the rain stopped? When the rain finally stops and the flood subsides, the old growth has gone and there’s new fertile land waiting to be farmed.[10]

        To help us imagine this, let’s use a powerful tool called Backcasting.

        Move Backwards From Your Vision to the Present

        Backcasting is a navigational tool we can use to solve difficult or “Wicked” problems. With Backcasting, we start with the end in mind, where multiple paths exist. Another way to think of it is to think of scouting ahead. Let’s see what it looks like and walk through an example. [11]

          Steps in Backcasting

          Step #1: Set the timeframe.

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          Step #2: List how the problem is currently functioning by using your current CLA.

          Step #3: Define possible future states, for which I identified three. Complete a Future Wheel for each of these alternative future states.

          Step #4: Work backwards identifying actions and indicators.

          Step #5: Assess risks and opportunities.

          Backcasting is an extremely powerful tool as we can begin with the desired end state and work backwards uncovering (previously) hidden strategies to produce phenomenal transformation. It’s amazing the potential that exists if we would use these powerful approaches. CLA, Future Wheels, and Backcasting provide us an opportunity to radically improve any problem placed in front of us.

            When developing a solution to a problem, we cannot simply look at a single cause and effect relationship. This is not nearly dynamic enough. If we do this, we will overlook a problem. So, we must learn to find a problems blindspot. Lastly, I am reminded of a famous quote by Friedrich Nietzsche,

            “When you look long into an abyss, the abyss also looks into you.”

            Reference

            [1] Libarynth.org: Causal Layered Analysis
            [2] Sohail Inayatullah: Six pillars futures thinking for transformation
            [3] Libarynth.org: Causal Layered Analysis
            [4] Cracked.com: 5 insane realities inside the foster care system
            [5] Medium.com: Profiting from foster care
            [6] Sohail Inayatullah: Six pillars futures thinking for transformation
            [7] Emergent by Design: Futures Wheel
            [8] Sohail Inayatullah: Six pillars futures thinking for transformation
            [9] Prezi.com: The dark side of foster care
            [10] Quora.com: Tom Southern
            [11] Slideshare.net: Backcasting 101

            More by this author

            Dr. Jamie Schwandt

            Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt & Red Team Critical Thinker

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            Last Updated on February 17, 2021

            50 Ways to Increase Productivity and Achieve More in Less Time

            50 Ways to Increase Productivity and Achieve More in Less Time

            If you feel like you don’t have enough time to do everything you want to do, maybe it’s time to check-in with your time management skills.

            No one is born to be very good at time management, so that’s okay if you think you’re bad in it. But everyone can learn to boost their productivity and achieve more!

            Here are 50 ways to increase productivity and add hours to your day.

            1. Set a Timer

            Estimate the time you need to tackle different tasks and set a timer for each of your tasks. How you go about this is up to you as there are many different ways. There is the Pomodoro technique where you focus on a task for 25 minutes followed by a five minute break afterwards.

            In the event that you have a task that will take much longer than that, you can consider one of the many timer-based apps. One that comes to mind is Clockify. It’s used for freelancers and entrepreneurs alike, however it’s a good way to be setting yourself a timer. It provides reports and you can serve as a project manager of sorts too. Best of all, it’s free.

            2. Eliminate All Distractions

            Distractions include the phone, email notifications and having multiple web browsers open on the desktop. Just as it’s important to be organized offline, it’s key to have things organized online as well. This free guide End Distractions And Find Your Focus is a good tool to help you. With this guide, you’ll learn how to get rid of distractions and boost productivity. Grab your free guide here.

            You can also learn more on how to get rid of all distractions in this guide: How to Focus and Maximize Your Productivity (the Definitive Guide)

            3. Listen to Music That Boosts Productivity

            Distractions should be avoided, but sometimes a bit of music in the background can help you focus.

            Of course, it doesn’t need to be heavy rock music, but a bit of Beethoven may do you some good.

            Here’s a complete guide to help you pick the right music for better productivity: How To Maximize Your Productivity With Music: A Complete Guide

            4. Find Meaning in What You Do (And Love What You Do)

            Enjoying what you do is the ultimate way to increase your productivity.

            If you aren’t sure what you love doing yet, don’t worry. Leo Babauta has some unique ways to help you: How to Find Your Passion

            5. Prioritize your tasks ahead of time.

            By listing your tasks in order of importance, you can make sure that you finish all of your most important tasks during the day.

            Learn a unique technique to Prioritize Right in 10 Minutes and Work 10X Faster.

            6. Batch Similar Tasks into a Single Batch.

            Tasks like blog writing, phone calls, email and errands can be grouped into a single batch. You will save time by completing similar tasks in one session. One way to help you with organizing all of those things is through the app Todoist. It’s an easy and simple way for you to plan out your day, set reminders, and group all of your most important tasks in a convenient spot.

            7. Complete Your Most Dreaded Tasks First Thing in the Morning.

            Whichever activity you are dreading the most is probably the one you need to complete first thing in the morning.

            Many people tend to check emails in the morning because after checking a list of emails, they feel fulfilled. But that’s just an illusion of having achieved more.

            Doing simple tasks like checking emails first in the morning is bad for you. Instead, do the difficult tasks because you have more energy in the morning to tackle them!

            8. Reward Yourself for Finishing a Big Task

            To stay motivated for whatever you do, reward yourself every now and then.

            Keep track of your small wins and milestones and celebrate them. So whenever you struggle about your progress, you see how far you’ve come!

            Find out more about this 2-Step Approach to Self-Motivation: Track Small Wins and Reward Yourself.

            9. Don’t Multitask

            Research has shown that multitasking is not productive. If you think you can multitask, think again.

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            For optimum productivity, focus on one thing at a time.

            10. Step Away from the Computer

            The Internet has become one of the number one distraction. To increase your productivity, try to do as much of your work offline as possible.

            I do this a lot when I try to brainstom new ideas and have found it to be very beneficial to simply unplug.

            11. Use Focus Tools

            Make good use of apps and technology to help you remove distractions.

            Here’re 18 Best Time Management Apps and Tools to help you stay focused. This way, you’re not distracted by the web, e-mail, or IM.

            Also, join the free Fast-Track Class – Overcoming Distraction, and you’ll learn the one simple method to work even when you’re surrounded by distractions. Join the free session now!

            12. Just Start

            Often times, starting is the hardest part. People tend to wait for the perfect time with perfect condition to start. But there’s no perfect condition.

            Once you get going, you will quickly get into a rhythm that could last for hours.

            13. Find out Your Productive Hours

            Everyone has a certain time of the day in which they are more productive than others. For me, it’s the morning.

            Find out when your prime time is for productivity and optimize your work schedule accordingly.

            14. Keep a Notebook and Pen on Hand at All Times

            This way, you can write down your thoughts, to-dos and ideas at any time. The key is to get everything out of your head and onto paper. Your subconscious mind won’t be reminding you about it every other second. Another consideration is getting the app Evernote. Not only does this save you on ink and paper, Evernote is a convenient place for you to jot down notes and thoughts and then share them with the team. In certain circumstances, this can prove useful if you’re the type of person that has a lot of ideas that you want to share.

            15. Write a Blog to Chronicle Your Own Personal Development and Achievements

            The blog keeps you accountable and always working towards self improvement and personal growth.

            When you write down all the small achievements you’ve been having, you’re also more motivated to move forward.

            And you know what, this is how I started Lifehack too! What also helped me in starting Lifehack is WordPress, which allows people to set up a website for free. WordPress has simplified a lot of the process of building a site to the point that virtually anyone can build a website now.

            16. Write out a To-Do-List Each Day

            I like to plan my day the night before. This way, I can get started on my most important tasks as soon as I wake up. The Full Life Planner is a nice tool to help you organize your days and get things that matter done. Check out the planner here and start to plan your day ahead easily!

            Make sure you don’t make any of these common to-do-list mistakes!

            17. Write Your Most Important Tasks and To-Dos on a Calendar.

            The key to good time management is knowing where to be and what to be doing there at any given time. Effective calendar management goes hand in hand with good task list management.

            Learn here How to Use a Calendar to Create Time and Space.

            18. Reflect on Your Productivity Constantly

            As you go throughout your day, repeatedly ask yourself:

            “Am I currently making the best possible use of my time?”

            This one simple question can be an excellent boost to your productivity.

            19. Get up Early Before Anyone Else

            I know it could be difficult for some to wake up early in the morning but nothing beats a quiet house!

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            Here’s How to Start Your Day at 5:00 AM and some Simple Things Early Risers Do to make waking up early easier.

            20. Get Plenty of Sleep

            When you work online, sleep can become a long lost memory. However, it’s important to get plenty of sleep so that your working hours can be as productive as possible.

            Try out this night routine which I highly recommend for productivity: The Ultimate Night Routine Guide: Sleep Better and Wake Up Productive

            21. Exercise

            Research has shown that midday exercise boosts productivity and morale in the workplace.

            Take a short walk at lunch or do some simple stretches during your break to maximize your productivity.

            Here I have some exercises recommendations for you:

            22. Outsource as Much as Possible

            If you want to achieve more in less time, learn to delegate or outsource work. Here are just a few of the companies that will help you outsource your everyday tasks:

            Also, read this guide to learn how to delegate effectively: How to Delegate Work (the Definitive Guide for Successful Leaders)

            23. Set Some Exciting Goals

            Without worthy goals, you will never be motivated to get things done.

            Set goals that are challenging and achievable. The best goal setting framework is a SMART goal. That said, there are other tools that can help you out as well. For example, The Dreamers’ Guide To Reaching Your Goal is a great guide to help you set and reach goals effectively. Grab your free guide and learn how to make your goals happen this year!

            24. Tell Other People About Your Goals

            When you tell others about your goals, you will instantly be held accountable.

            25. Listen to Podcasts

            Listen to educational podcasts or audio books while you’re driving to work, cleaning the house, exercising, or cooking dinner.

            Audio learning has the power to add hours to your day. Not to mention, your cranium is sure to thank you for it.

            Some recommendations for you: 11 Podcasts To Inspire Yourself

            26. Read David Allen’s best-selling book Getting Things Done

            This is one of the most important productivity books you will ever read. Read it, apply the tips in your daily lives and get more things done.

            Here’re more great books about productivity too: 35 Books on Productivity and Organizational Skills for an Effective Life

            27. Learn to Speed Read

            When you can read faster, you will read and learn more! Check out these 10 Ways to Increase Your Reading Speed.

            You can also make use of the app OutRead to help speed up your reading speed!

            28. Learn to Skip When You Read

            When you’re reading a book, just read the parts that you need and skip the rest. But you have to read with a purpose.

            Learn how to make it work here: How to Read 10X Faster and Retain More

            29. Focus on Result-Oriented Activities

            Pareto’s law (also known as the 80 20 rule) states that 80% of the outputs result from 20% of the inputs. This means that 20% of our actions result in 80% of the results.

            We must find the 20% that is creating the 80% of our desired outcomes and focus solely on those activities.

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            30. Take a Break

            You can’t always be working at optimum productivity. Instead, you should shoot for working in short bursts at your most productive times.

            31. Start a Polyphasic Sleep Schedule

            What is polyphasic sleep?

            Polyphasic sleep is a sleep pattern specification intended to compress sleep time to 2-5 hours daily.[1] This is achieved by spreading out sleep into short (around 20-45 minute) naps throughout the day. This allows for more waking hours with relatively high alertness.

            While you can learn more about it here, you’re recommended to take some naps during the day to recharge your energy too.

            32. Learn to Say “No”.

            We can’t do everything and therefore we must learn when to say no in order to save our sanity.

            Learn the Gentle Art of Saying No from Leo Babauta.

            33. Go on an Information Diet

            Most of the world lives on information overload. We must eliminate mindless Internet surfing.

            Stop reading three different newspapers a day and checking your RSS feeds multiple times a day. Otherwise, you’ll never get anything done.

            The key is to limit yourself only to information that you can immediately take action on. Here’re some simple tips you can try: 10 Simple Productivity Tricks To Manage Overloaded Information

            34. Organize Your Office

            The piles of paper around your desk can be a huge barrier on your productivity. Optimize your time by organizing your office, setting up a system and dumping the junk.

            Check out these 21 Tips to Organize Your Office and Get More Done and 20 Easy Home Office Organization Ideas to Boost Your Productivity.

            35. Find a Mentor

            By modeling after those who have already achieved success, you will save yourself a lot of time and energy.

            A good mentor is hard to find, so here’s a guide to help you: What to Look for in a Mentor

            36. Learn Keyboard Shortcuts

            With technology’s help, you can double your work efficiency. Even better, you learn all the shortcuts when using technology, for example keyboard shortcuts.

            When you use keyboard shortcut, you gain 64 hours every year!

            Not sure what shortcuts to lear? Check out these 22 Tricks That Can Make Anyone A Keyboard Ninja.

            Besides learning the shortcuts, you can also create keyboard shortcuts with AutoHotKey.

            37. Improve Your Typing Speed to Save Time

            Do you know you can save 21 days per year just by typing fast?

            You don’t really need to take some serious courses to type faster, try these typing games online:

            38. Work from Home and Avoid the Daily Commute

            If your job is a flexible one, consider working from home. This saves you the commute time and you’ll find yourself more energetic throughout the day as you have saved the long ride.

            Take a look at these tips to help you stay productive while working from home:

            How to Work from Home and Stay Ultra-Productive

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            39. Get Rid of Time Wasters

            Common time wasters include Instant Messenger, video games, Flickr, checking your stats 10 times a day, television and extraneous Internet surfing.

            Don’t rely on your willpower, make use of some of these useful tools to help you stay focus: 10 Online Apps for Better Focus

            40. Plan Your Meals in Advance

            Plan out all of your meals a week ahead and make your grocery list accordingly. This allows you to focus on the necessary – saving you time and money. You can also save yourself even more time through a wide variety of apps. One app that I find helpful is Mealime. It’s an app that provides you with a wide selection of recipes and also a convenient spot for your grocery list as well.

            Considering the fact that over 4 million users have this app, it goes to show that there is a good selection of meal plans that you can follow and that the app is friendly to use.

            41. Cook Your Meals in Bulk

            When you cook your meals in bulk, you will have plenty of leftovers. This can avoid having to cook everyday.

            Find out more about how to make cooking in bulk works: Once a Month Cooking: Productivity Hack or Overrated Time Suck?

            42. Protect Yourself from Unnecessary Phone Time with Caller ID

            The minutes you spend on picking up unnecessary phone calls are time wasted. You can prevent that from happening.

            Check out this detailed guide how you can deal with those unnecessary phone calls: How To Lose the Useless Items that Weigh Down Your Day – Cellphone Calls

            43. Take Shorter Showers

            This one may sound silly but it’s actually something I struggle with. I spend up to 30 minutes in the shower. Think of the time I could save simply by speeding up a bit.

            44. Save the Trips to Bank by Taking Direct Deposit

            Many employers now offer direct deposit. If yours does, then be sure and take advantage of it and save yourself from a number of trips to the bank.

            45. Auto Pay Your Bills

            How many times have you been worried about whether you missed the bills deadline?

            Auto paying your bills will save you time and eliminate late fees and increased interest rates.

            46. Shop Online

            Whenever possible, avoid going to the store. When you shop online, you can be more focus about what you’re getting.

            47. Speed up your Internet With a Broadband Connection

            Many people are aware of the slow speed of internet but aren’t doing anything about it. In fact, this is the number one Internet time-saver!

            If you must use dial-up, then you can use accelerators like Propel and SlipStream to double or even triple your speed.

            48. Keep up the Speed of Your Computer

            If you’re a Windows user, use Windows hibernation feature to avoid the slowdown of exiting and restarting Windows.

            Or maybe, consider switching to Mac as there’re plenty of Advantages You Probably Don’t Know About Switching To Mac From PC.

            49. Turn off the TV

            The average American watches more than 4 hours of television every day. Over a 65-year life, that’s 9 years glued to the tube.

            For better health and productivity, turn off the TV. Here’re 11 more reasons to tell you to stop watching TV so often.

            Turn off the TV and you are sure to get more out of life.

            50. Use a Tivo or DVR

            This can help you cut an hour-long television show down to just 40 minutes. You can save time while not missing the fun.

            So, here’s the ultimate list of techniques you should learn to boost productivity. Pick the techniques that work for you and make them your daily habits. As time goes, you’ll find yourself being a lot more productive.

            More Time Management Tips

            Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

            Reference

            [1] Medical News Today: What is biphasic and polyphasic sleep?

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